LORAIN – The city is getting stronger if Mayor Chase Ritenauer has anything to say about it.
During his annual State of the City address, the 33-year-old mayor said with a loss of funding from state and federal government, Lorain has become accustomed to the do-it-yourself method and they’re better for it.
“How do you band together as a community to make something happen?” Ritenauer said. “I look at that and where we were two years ago and I would say the state of Lorain is that we’re strengthening. We’re getting stronger each and every day. The last two years were tough and it made us focus more.”
In 2016, the city was facing a multi-million dollar deficit that resulted in the laying off and eventual rehire of 22 firefighters in addition to numerous other cuts in other departments across the city.
Since then, he said, things are looking up with the city government having a structurally balanced budget in 2018 and a larger financial carryover than both he and Auditor Karen Shawver had initially anticipated.
“You have to grind more and hope the accumulation of it will get you to a time where you’re balanced, things are better and happening,” he said. “You have to show that grind, that drive. Really I think that is the city spirit to come together to make progress and change happen. It’s the Lorain way.”
Ritenauer cited several changes and improvements to the downtown area, including a Rockin’ On The River concert series that gets “bigger and better” every year, United Way and the Lorain County Community Action Agency have moved into improved buildings on Broadway and Kurt and Page Hernon opened a new bar, Speak of the Devil, on West Fifth Street.
Ritenauer said Speak of the Devil is so much more than a place to go hang out and he’s heard about it from people all across the area, not just in Lorain.
“It’s about their connections to others and people saying, ‘Hey, maybe I want to open up a restaurant’ or ‘I want to buy a building and do something,’” Ritenauer said. “When you see downtown shifts, you see local, homegrown people taking the shot. They’re putting in investments and giving it a go. You’re starting to see this local investment go in to downtown. I think it’s telling of what to come.”
This includes an overhaul of the dilapidated Broadway Building at Broadway and East Erie Avenue.
“All of this will be augmented by a new Broadway streetscape,” he said, referring to the more than $3 million project that will improve signage and widen sidewalks on Broadway from U.S. Route 6 to 10th Street. “I said at this event last year there were no plans because we didn’t have the money to do it. Since then, we’ve worked with NOACA to get some funding. You’re really going to see a renewed Broadway.”
The last year wasn’t without its “moonshots” though, Ritenauer said, referring to the city’s bid for the new Amazon headquarters, which he wrote along with an intern. Lorain wasn’t a top contender but that doesn’t mean other jobs aren’t coming to the city, he said.
Ritenauer said a company that previously left will be returning to Lorain this year and is hoping to bring 100 office jobs with it to an existing building out on Oak Point Road, although he couldn’t name the company yet.
“The days of the 1,000-person factory, those days are not here anymore,” Ritenauer said. “Sometimes, maybe, but if you’re going to base your economic development policy on ‘I’m going to go get 1,000 jobs,’ I’ve got news for you: It’s not going to work.”
The city government also will be seeing new jobs this year as positions that had previously been cut through attrition return in addition to “new life” being brought into the city’s Parks Department and the south side’s Oakwood Park.
With the city freeing up some debt this year, investments are expected to be made at the city’s lift stations, wastewater treatment plant and water plant in addition to new equipment, two new fire stations — one on the east side and one on the west — and a new building for the Streets Department.
“Our Streets Department (building) is beyond its useful life,” Ritenauer said. “It’s actually far worse than that. Our employees should not have to work there and we need a new building. It can’t go on any longer.”
More than 200 vacant homes have been knocked down in the last year and Ritenauer said the city is volleying for dollars to also demolish some of its vacant commercial properties as well.
Improvements also are coming to the city’s website as it gets its first facelift since at least 2011.
“We’re in the 21st century now and it needs a 21st-
century feel,” the mayor said. “It needs better interaction and to keep residents apprised of what’s going on and to inform residents of what’s going on about the city.”
As Lorain continues in 2018, Ritenauer said he thinks the city is headed in the right direction, even if he said he hasn’t decided to run for a third term next year.
“I think you’re seeing that when you stay with the plan and the dream, the unthinkable can happen,” he said. “All those things we want to see — a developed waterfront, a bustling downtown, more jobs throughout the city — have helped make the unthinkable thinkable. Our possibilities are endless.”